T-STAR Grant Funds Genetic Studies and Endangered Cycad Rescue
The University of Guam’s Western Pacific Tropical Research Center (WPTRC) was awarded $510,165 in T-STAR grant funds from USDA. T-STAR (Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture Research) is a special grant program explicitly for research that enhances the development of sound tropical and subtropical agricultural practices including value-added product development and the control of diseases, insects, weeds, and invasive species.
The projects funded will serve aquaculture and papaya farmers as well as work toward the preservation of an endemic cycad species endangered due to attacks by several species of invasive insects.
Hui Gong, an aquaculture researcher with WPTRC, was awarded $186,960 for a genetic variability study of specific pathogen free (SPF) Pacific white shrimp, Penaeus vannamei, through developing a panel of species-specific microsatellite genetic markers. Says Dr. Gong, “The long term research objective is to establish a medium-scale, effective genetic selection program of P. vannamei on Guam to support the development and expansion of shrimp aquaculture in the Western Pacific region.”
George Wall, plant pathologist, received $162,856 in collaboration with Dr. D. Nandwani from the Northern Marianas College to improve papaya cultivars from the Mariana Islands in their tolerance to papaya ringspot virus (PRV) and other important diseases. Dr. Wall’s studies have found that a local variety is tolerant to PRV but needs genetic improvement to reduce the incidence of male character and deformed fruit. “We intend to take our selections to an F4 generation with this grant project and ultimately to an F7 or beyond,” says Wall.
WPTRC research scientist Thomas Marler is known internationally as an expert on cycad plants. Marler, in collaboration with pollination biologist Irene Terry, was awarded $120,318 to study the pollination process of Cycas micronesica, a plant endemic to the Mariana Islands. This cycad is currently listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of endangered species. “This project addresses a pressing horticultural problem, an acute invasive species crisis, fundamental questions concerning pollinator-plant interactions in an ancient lineage of plant, and critical gaps in knowledge needed to steer urgent conservation decisions,” says Marler. Photo left: Irene Terry examines Guam cycad. Photo credit: Thomas Marler.
“WPTRC scientists in partnership with USDA continue to keep the needs of farmers and the ecosystems of Guam and the region on their research agendas. UOG researchers have a stellar track record with T-STAR administrators,” says Greg Wiecko, associate director of WPTRC.